Guernsey Press

‘I had knee ops in France rather than wait two years’

WHEN the pain in Andre Vaudin’s knees became unbearable and he was told that it could be two years or more before he could get them replaced, he decided to pay to have the surgery done in France instead.

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Andre Vaudin has had both his knees operated on in France and says it was considerably cheaper, and quicker than having it done here or in the UK. (Picture by Peter Frankland, 31659482)

Mr Vaudin, 64, a self-employed plasterer, had his operation in December and said it had given him a new lease of life, physically and mentally.

‘It’s given me a whole new lease of life and mentally I feel so much happier, too – you’re bound to.

‘The States bang on here about people’s mental health, but your physical health is connected to your mental health.

‘With all the people out there in pain, waiting for an operation, the States’ aren’t doing any good for their mental health, are they?’

Mr Vaudin’s case has highlighted concerns about waiting lists for hospital operations.

At one point last year there were 2,500 islanders awaiting various operations and there has been political pressure for the Health & Social Care Committee to do more.

Mr Vaudin has struggled with knee pain in both knees for the past four years. He said he did not go to the doctor straight away.

‘It was a good year before I went to see the specialist,’ he said.

‘Until it gets bad enough for you to actually go and do something and face the music, you don’t go.’

X-rays showed that he had little to no cartilage in both his knees and he was told he needed partial knee replacements.

Before the pandemic struck he would have had to wait about two years, but in light of the pandemic the specialist could not be specific.

‘He just put out his hands and said “I don’t know”,’ Mr Vaudin said.

So he went back to work.

‘But it got to such a stage when I’d had enough,’ he said.

‘Every morning I was getting up and covering my knees in [pain-killing] gel and taking heavy doses of painkillers.’

It also affected his hobby of scuba diving, but again he carried on.

‘I forced myself to, just to have something to look forward to.’

A friend of his who owned a house in France had had knee surgery himself at a hospital in Angers, so he passed on the information and Mr Vaudin started looking into going there.

After making contact he went to see the surgeon to discuss the surgery.

Not being able to speak French, he said that the surgeon and many of the staff he spoke to could speak good English, and those who could not made use of translator apps on their phones.

‘There wasn’t tons of red tape. I went to see the surgeon three weeks before and he showed me what he was putting in my knees – partial knees made in Oxford.’

He said that the surgeon wrote to him and asked if he realised he was taking a chance going to have the operation in France since he would be a long way from home, but Mr Vaudin said he felt he did not have any option.

He was told that he could have both partial knee replacements done at the same time, which he said had not been an option in Guernsey. It would heave meant him taking three months off work for recuperation, and then have another three months off for the second operation.

‘I took the chance. There was only one place I was going, and that was to sit in a wheelchair and on my settee for the next three or four years.’

From getting in touch with the surgeon to having the surgery took about three months, and he was operated on at the start of December.

‘I had the operation at about 10am, woke up at about half-one and by half-two they had me on my feet at the bottom of the bed,’ he said.

He was in hospital for three nights in a private room for a total cost of £5,800, including the surgery.

Once flights and accommodation outside of the hospital were taken into account, including pre-operation visits, he said it probably cost him a total of about £10,000.

As someone who had paid social insurance from a young age he had ended up paying more than he needed to in order to secure his States pension, he said.

But he was told he could not claim back those excess payments to offset the cost of his operation.

‘Social Security said if you’ve been offered to have your knees done here, we can’t give you any help.

‘I said “Would you sooner help me get my knees done and I carry on paying tax and insurance, or would you sooner me in a wheelchair or not being able to do anything and the States pay me sick pay?” And she [a member of staff] said “Well, that’s the way it is”.’